Former Kentwood star helped by "blended family"
Not even Rodney Stuckey knows the whole story. Whenever anyone asks how his family grew so large and became so diverse, he'd always say...
Seattle Times staff reporter
High school: Kentwood
College: Eastern Washington
His game: Combo guard. Highly skilled offensive player. Good passer.
Best guess: May be chosen in the late lottery or could fall into the back half of the first round.
KENT — Not even Rodney Stuckey knows the whole story. Whenever anyone asks how his family grew so large and became so diverse, he'd always say something like "it just happened" or "that's just how we are."
For him and everyone else, that's always been enough.
He knows the important stuff. He remembers the difficulties his mother, Faye Stuckey, had raising seven children. He can recall the day the McElhinneys opened their home to him and his older brother Ronnie.
He also understands how that decision changed his life and was the start to a storybook tale that continues Thursday when the former Kentwood High School basketball standout likely will be chosen somewhere in the first round of the NBA draft.
"All of this may look like it's all about Rodney, but really it's all about Faye," said Diane McElhinney.
And that's only half the story. In truth, Rodney's story is about both Faye and Diane, who were separated by a few blocks and yet they lived in different worlds divided by race, money and culture.
Rodney Stuckey's story is about "one woman listening to a voice inside of her and another woman who had the courage to receive help."
Those are Diane's words. She tells the story better than anyone because she's the only one who knows the whole story. For so long she has been reluctant to disclose the complete details because she assumed nobody would understand. She tried telling one of her sons once and he told her: "Mom, don't ever tell anyone that because they just won't believe you."
But with Rodney on the verge of NBA greatness, Diane knows people will wonder how did this happen. They will look at their family photo, examine the black faces and the white faces, and they'll ask questions. They'll hear Rodney call Faye mom and then call Diane mom and they won't understand.
But to Diane it's very natural.
"We're a great blended family," she said.
So now is as good a time as any to return to that day nearly 5 ½ years ago when it all happened.
"I just got this message from I don't know where that I needed to go and get in touch with Faye," said Diane, whose oldest son, Matt Taller, played basketball at Kentwood with Rodney. "I didn't know Faye. I never met her. It was odd and it wouldn't go away. I told my husband, Brent, that I need to go and talk to Faye. I didn't want to get anyone else involved so I found her phone number in the Kentwood directory. And I was sitting at work thinking, 'I don't know what to do.' I've got this compelling message ... and I didn't know whether it was just kind of being a little nutty or what.
"So one day, I call and there's no answer. I call again and no answer. So I call one more time and she picked up the phone. I said, 'You don't know me, but our boys play basketball together and I would like to see you. I want to talk to you about helping out a bit.' I went over to the house and it was just me and Faye.
"We come from different worlds, and everybody is protective. We've all got pride. But I tell her, 'I don't know what it is, but I'm here to help you.' She said 'You know, Diane, what I would really like is someone to talk to once in a while.' So my relationship started with Faye. I don't know whether Rodney has a guardian angel or Faye has a guardian angel or I've got some kind of a gift. But it was just something that was dear to me. Something that I felt I had to do.
"And that's how it started. I don't think I've ever told that story like that to Rodney or anyone."
At times, the relationship was awkward. Early on, Diane tutored Faye's daughter, Janae, and drove her to gymnastics class. Diane also drove Rodney to basketball practice and the summer before his senior year at Kentwood, Rodney took online classes at the McElhinney house.
That summer, Rodney and Ronnie moved into the five-bedroom house on the banks of Lake Meridian that Diane shares with husband Brent. They each have two boys from previous marriages, but they didn't hesitate to add to their family. They became Rodney and Ronnie's legal guardians.
"It's hard to put into words what that was like," Rodney said. "I'll put it like this. Everything just changed for me."
That was also the summer Rodney exploded onto the national scene.
Francis Williams saw him playing in a tournament at Highline Community College against former Franklin High standout Aaron Brooks, who was a McDonald's All-American.
So enthralled with the manner in which Rodney dominated Brooks, Williams offered him a position on the touted Seattle Rotary Select AAU team that featured forward Marvin Williams (now with the Atlanta Hawks, Josh Heytvelt (Gonzaga) and C.J. Giles (Oregon State). They lost just two games that summer and finished the season as the second-best team in the country.
"People were totally enamored with all of the big guys when we walked in a gym, but I felt like ... he was the most consistent player we had," Williams said. "When we were in a big game and we needed a bucket, it was Rodney Stuckey. It didn't matter who the other team had in their backcourt, they never had an answer for Rodney Stuckey."
The Washington Huskies took notice. So did Washington State. Stuckey, the consensus state player of the year who led Kentwood to the 4A state championship as a senior, failed to meet NCAA academic requirements, however.
"Coming out of high school, I didn't qualify and going to a prep school or going to a [junior college], I didn't want to go that route," he said. "Eastern Washington gave me a full ride, so I had to work with what I had."
He sat out the 2004-05 season, then as a freshman averaged 24.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists while setting seven school records and becoming the first Big Sky Conference freshman to earn league player-of-the-year honors. His sophomore campaign was nearly identical as he averaged 24.6 points 4.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists.
During workouts with Detroit and Sacramento, Stuckey has drawn rave reviews and comparisons to Miami's Dwyane Wade. He isn't expected to fall past Philadelphia, which has the No. 21 pick, and he might be selected as high as No. 11 to Atlanta.
Wherever he lands, Diane frets about losing her son and her granddaughter, Rodney's 2 ½-year-old daughter Lexi.
"This is a really wonderful time for me and Faye," Diane said. "She's going to get the reward of a lot of her hard work, and for me, I'm a little emotional about him going away because he's really the first kid to leave. ...
"He told me about buying a house and all I could say was, 'But Rodney, you're going to keep your room here, right?' He'll always have a home here."
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org